The Problem with Epic

Epic. I can’t stand that word.

More precisely, I can’t stand advice from gurus that says epic is what you should strive for.

It’s all over: Write epic posts. Create epic content. Think of epic ideas. BE epic, for the love of Pete. Else clearly you’re a LOSER.

Why should we strive for epic in the first place? Striving for “epic” leaves no room for improvement. Once you’ve reached it, that’s it – what else can you do except try to be more epic?

So where does this epic-quest end? Nowhere except a looming pitfall of doom called failure. Either you wrote epic stuff or you didn’t. Fail.

That’s not much fun for anyone who happens to just be fairly great or even merely good enough.

While we’re on the subject, could someone tell me exactly what “epic” means? What’s an epic post made of? How does it work? Show me the checklist. Teach me the guidelines. I want the recipe for epic.

Oh, wait, that’s right – epic is a subjective word. What’s epic to you isn’t epic to me, and so forth and so on. (Looks like we have a little problem, n’est pas?)

Here’s the truth: “Epic” is a very poor goal indeed. You can’t always write epic posts. You can’t always think epic thoughts. You can’t always do epic stuff.

You shouldn’t even want to, honestly. Who wants the standard of EPIC ONLY constantly hounding them, with everything else that falls short a reminder of our ungreatness?

Not me, that’s who.

Being epic all the time isn’t realistic.  “Just okay” is plenty acceptable. In fact, it should be embraced and welcomed so more people feel comfortable writing something that’s fairly fine. No epic required.

Imagine what might happen then. Fear of failure might wither up. Writer’s block might disappear forever. More people might hit ‘publish’ on their post without worrying whether it’s epic enough or not.

And that’s how it should be. After all, we’re only human. No one handed us inherent epic when we were born. We got table rosa, some innate talent and a few natural abilities to work with.

That’s it. That’s all.

Sure, we grew up and gained life experience, a few skills and some job history along the way, but that doesn’t sound like much to work with. Sure, we can want to push ourselves, and strive to do better and become better people for it, but… epic?

Forget that.

Besides, we should want less-than-epic in our lives. If we didn’t have the good, the bad and the ugly to compare against, it’d get boring. Epic wouldn’t be epic anymore. It’d just be the norm.

Nothing special about that.

You need bad days to make the good ones stand out. You need crappy posts to make the good ones shine. You need all the average stuff so that when something really great comes along, everyone notices.

You don’t ever want to get to the point where you say, “Jeez, another epic post? I think I’ve read 40 today…”

I don’t want anything to do with epic. I refuse to make epic the standard I always strive for when I write. It’s too high for my tastes, and I’d much rather aim for “good enough”.

No stress. No pressure. No writer’s block. No need to beat myself up because I’m not producing epic work. I’m just an everyday person with knowledge to share who writes a fair hand.

That way I’m pleasantly surprised by “better than usual” and comfortably fine with what I generally produce the rest of the time. It’s like getting flowers when you least expect them. Out of the blue. And for no reason.

So this post isn’t epic. I didn’t even try to make it epic. I wrote it in about an hour, in between emails and phone calls and all sorts of distractions. I gave it a quick edit, and then purposefully published it without thinking. No regrets.

I wrote a perfectly average, un-epic piece.

And I didn’t even care.

Here’s what I care about: Sharing good advice. Telling stories. Extending opinions. Teaching from experience. Helping others. Making the world a little bit of a better place, even if only for one person.

That’s what matters. That’s all I ask of myself. I cut myself slack.

Maybe you should too.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Speaking of EPIC… reminded me that I haven’t told you all in a long, long, long, long, long time how EPICLY I love getting your emails. They are a constant and EPIC source of enjoyment, teaching, and encouragement. You’re EPIC…. really (In honor of Seinfeld’s ‘really’… really!)

  2. You’ll love this James.

    All the medical doctors, hospitals, therapists, medical universities in our area are going with a new computer system that will help the patient just have one set of records and a condensed file.

    The name of it is EPIC!

    So the word “Epic” is getting it’s share of bad karma from all the people who have to learn a new system and switch files:)

    ps. New company started Monday. Finally got rid of the Elves. Fresh start, yea! Think I’ll have an epic drink to celebrate.

    • Oh wow. Switching a major computer system to a new one is hell on wheels in a handbasket. I can just imagine the mutters. “Epic… yeah you BET it’s epic…”

      (PS: YAY!)

  3. I agree! “Epic” and other words like “Awesome” are largely devoid of meaning.

    “Break the rules”
    “Be remarkable”
    “Do Epic Shit”

    All generally mean, quit a low salary job to make even less money selling ‘how to make money online’ products. :-)

    We need a little less hype and a little more authenticity in the world.

    • Hear, hear! And while we’re at it, can we add to the list: 6-figures, blueprint, formula, cash-machine? I’m sure there are others, but this has become a personal mission of mine lately: http://thewordchef.com/2012/09/dont-read-the-instruction-manual-its-time-to-improvise/

      • 6-figure’s a fun one. “More than $99,999, less than a million. Anyone’s guess as to where in between.” Either that or it’s a nice case of, “Um, I don’t want to tell you what I make, for various reasons. So let’s just say 6 figures, okay?”

        Why not just not mention how much you make at all? I’ve never had to. Done just fine without the hype so far.

        Also? I want a cash machine. Do they come in blue?

    • As I was writing, all sorts of words were coming to mind. It’s amazing how hard we’re pushed to be so much more than anyone should even want to be, and that everyone’s ignoring the dark side of all this. I’m seeing way, WAY too many people having confidence issues – and damn, I don’t blame them!

      Time to call it like it is. Epic shit indeed. ;)

  4. Epic sucks because it’s beyond the average blogger. It makes them feel less than worthy if they can’t achieve it and we lose talented writers because of the “right way” of a few, has become the norm.

    Sure aspire to epic, but when I think epic I tend to think of The Illiad style epic and that’s the kind of epic that would hell to read on a PC screen.

    • That’s exactly it, Sarah. There are a lot of people out there that can’t even write a simple comment on a blog because they feel they can’t be PROFOUND and AWESOME and … yeah. You know how it goes.

      And blogging? Forget it. How can anyone – even me! – compete when the bar is set that high, all the time? (Not that I’d want to. S’more fun to knock it down and bring that bar within everyone’s reach.)

  5. And as far as your concept of EPIC, its so right on. In my world though, you guys are EPIC!

  6. Blizzard Entertainment creates epic content. So, for some…Epic is attainable.

  7. The “Epic” seems to be most dominant in the world of so called “digital nomads” that sit on a beach in thailand running affiliate websites and blogging about how everyone else can do it. Being “Epic” could be another word for “avoiding life”

    • I have to agree. I rarely see anyone in their 40s and 50s running around giving the same “be epic” advice. (Probably because they’ve learned that it’s not a valuable thing to say!)

  8. Epic posts are often books and I for one move on after the 3rd or 4th paragraph. It seems the longer the post the ‘better’ it is. This is surprising considering everyone is so time restricted these days. Great post James

    • That’s very true, isn’t it? There’s reason behind long posts, but sometimes those reasons aren’t always in the best interest of the reader. I’ve personally found that short, actionable advice is what people look for most.

  9. Siita Rivas says:

    PHEW! I just lowered the bar!
    Though I don’t plan to write shite either taking the pressure off being epic is a great place to begin.
    Thanks James that frees me up to write a little on the side that’s fresh n useful
    – kinda like your salad greens and everyone loves those hey!

  10. Joshua Anthony says:

    Have a better idea why not strive for honest, straightforward and to the point? Epic seems so blase. It’s overdone, restrictive and has no real tangible value.

    Epic is in the eye of the beholder correct? So maybe just maybe when all is said and done some will find your hard work epic and others … so so.

    As long as you’re accomplishing your goals and dream(s) what does it really matter?

  11. G’Day James,
    I feel much the same about that bloody awful “awesome.” Labels….. Did you know that “cool” as a description of someone unflappable or something desirable, was first used by Count Basie tenor sax star Lester Ypung in 1938 to describe another musician’s playing style.

    Now that’s both epic and awesome………….and cool.

    Make sure you have fun
    Best Wishes

    leon

  12. More people might hit ‘publish’ on their post without worrying whether it’s epic enough or not.

    Beautiful. (I really didn’t want to say epic … although….)

    The publish button is so guarded by epic that I’m surprised I ever click it. Thanks for the reminder that epic jus’ ain’t ALL that!

    • That’s exactly one of the biggest problems I’ve seen. There are plenty of people out there who aren’t “epic” writers but who have really valuable experience, stories and advice to share… and thinking of them staying silent because they think their words aren’t good enough to put out there makes me feel sad!

  13. I can raise my hand and honestly say, I’m only one of about I have no idea how many whom you’ve made the world a better place for.

    Thank you for your Anti-Epic post:)

  14. I cannot even imagine how many writers you’ve saved from throwing themselves off the proverbial cliff with this post, James.

    What you’ve said is Truth.

    We know it (and believe it) in our non-writing life, so why we we cling to the crazy ideal in our writing life?

    Don’t know, but thank you for giving us permission to do what you know I’m most passionate about — Connect…with one or many. In small ways or large. To inform, inspire, or vent Just connect, because we’re hard-wired for connection.

    Isn’t that really what it’s all about anyway?

    • You’re very welcome, Elizabeth, and I’m right with you on that. Connecting is far more important than any silly standard of perfection no one can possibly reach.

      Also, I don’t like cliff-jumping cleanup. Gets messy. Better to offer a hand to pull back those who are toeing the edge!

  15. Strange, my only use of the word “epic” was in the game World of Warcraft where the highest end game items were considered “epic”. Even in-game group events the failed, they would call it an “epic fail”..very strange.

    Outside of that I’ve rarely used the term. I’d say World of Warcraft probably had a large impact on the term being used in a common day to day manner.

    Interesting:)

    • I’ve actually honestly only heard the word used once or twice in relation to high-fantasy movies or novels before 2012. And apparently we all got along just fine without “epic” before… why fix what ain’t broke?

  16. Here, here! If you continuously aim and work your brains off for epic, the pains of disappointment and failure will surely be much heavier on your shoulders. Don’t settle for mediocrity, but don’t slave away for perfection.

    Thanks, James. Great post.

    • You said it. And even mediocre can be okay, if it means the difference between spreading an important message or forever staying silent so that no one can possibly benefit.

  17. Was just discussing this with a client today, we both agreed that a 7 (hell even a 6) out of 10 consistently is FAR better than a 9 or 10 sporadically.

    • Great point, Damian! That makes perfect sense, and I’m pretty sure a lot of sports team use that principle to weed out overall good players from the erratically epic!

  18. 100% agree with this.

    I had the same thing with the word “remarkable” awhile ago.

    If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with people, it’s that they get overwhelmed, scared and … overwhelmed.

    The more of the big words and things people use, the more people that actually have something to share feel like they are not good enough.

    I’ve only recently learned to cut myself slack. Just a little bit. I’m learning ;)

    • And since human beings are so fantastic at blowing up these terrible images of DOOM in their minds to the point it paralyzes them… well, that’s a recipe for writer’s block if I ever heard one!

  19. Wow, James. First you wrote about not adhering to a schedule, now you talk about hating ‘epic’?? This could make you very unpopular with some of the big ones, you know. ;)

    I am so glad you wrote this today. It was possibly the ONLY post I read from word to word in a long time. I understand that epic (oh, there is that word again) looks very useful, it is candy for sharing and bookmarking. But what does usually happen to the hundreds of bookmarks one accumulates. I know what happens at my end – nothing, nada, zilch!

    I appreciate blog posts that don’t require half an hour reading time. I am a fan of ‘regular’ posts for this reason alone. And I loved your post today. Thanks for making it ‘not epic’.
    Marya

    • Aw, thanks, Marya. As for tossing common advice out the window and taking the opposite stance of “it doesn’t have to be this way”… well, I’m known for that. Sometimes it’s just the right thing to do. (Besides, I always did like being the voice of reason!)

  20. Carol Anne says:

    I like epic fail, because when it happens to me (which it does from time to time), I can only go up. Otherwise, yes, epic is overused.

  21. There are two kinds of epic in this world: Epic Win.. and Epic Fail! While you may have said that this post is an un-epic piece, the fact that it did caught our attention means it has some kind of epic factor in it.

    • Ha! Looks like you and Carol Anne (above) have common interests. Absolutely nothing wrong with epic fails at all!

      I firmly believe there’s no such thing as failure anyways – there are only learning opportunities.

  22. Is “right on” the correct set of words here?

    Good information + well presented = worth my time. Thanks.

  23. Can you hear the collective sigh of relief ? I do believe though that epic may really have worked for at least some of those who teach that method. Is it for everyone? Definitely not. I also believe the bar needs to at least be at an intelligent, professional level if one is writing for business purposes. From there, I really like your point that epic scares to many people who might otherwise have something to say that someone, maybe lots of people need to hear. Find the happy balance that your readers respond to and you should be good to go.

  24. This post was a crack-up! My business is actually CALLED Grymm & Epic Copywriting & Illustration. In the world of heavy metal writing / blogging, there are a range of words that are overused when describing metal music – “epic” is at the top of the list, followed by “grymm”, “tr00″, “kvlt”, “brutal” and “grymm and frostbitten”. Often they’re strung together in flow-on sentencesThe use and overuse of these words have been a common joke among metalheads for years.

    I chose Grymm & Epic for my name because I thought it expressed the way I wrote and what I could do for businesses in a way that still held on to the heavy-metalness of my brand. Then I started to see the word “epic” showing up on non metal blogs, which was very weird. Also, “badass” – another word used a lot in metal circle, especially when you’re wanting to avoid using “brutal”.

    So that’s MY problem with “epic” – In my world, EPIC is for describing Richie Blackmore’s guitar solos and Derek Roddy’s double kick – not blog posts.

  25. From where I’m sitting, “epic” is all about external validation.

    It’s about preening, polishing and buffing stuff to such a level that people declare it epic (at which point it probably has a good deal of character polished out of it too). Sometimes you might position it as being epic yourself, in which case you ship it with the expectation of having that view validated. It’s hubris. It’s a lack of esteem.

    I have a huge problem with the movement of epic, hustle, crushing it, impossible and awesome. Please don’t diminish the value of good enough and don’t set the expectation that anything less than epic can’t matter.

    If you’re doing something that matters to you, good enough is *plenty*.

  26. James,

    I had no idea about your website or who you even were until today and I must say I absolutely love this write up as well as your personality. I find it refreshing and even jovial.

    I see this term used left and right in many blogging arenas and for myself has become completely mundane and when I see anything that involves the “epic” term in the headline I just usually bypass it and move to something else. I’m glad I didn’t bypass this article!

    I feel this term is nothing more than a deterrent for authors and bloggers everywhere because they are always wondering if their next article or post is even “epic” enough to share with the public and that stigma is what keeps them from publishing a possible masterpiece.

    Great authors and artists who are world renowned didn’t wonder if they were good enough to paint or write – they just did what they loved to do.

  27. Wow, that was definitely epic for me though. It’s my first time landing on your page and you’ve already made an impact on me. This will be my go-to article whenever I feel like my writing is not good enough to hit the “publish” button. Thanks James!

  28. Somehow, it seems hyperbole that frequently crosses the line into questionable honesty JUST KEEPS WORKING in copywriting. Isn’t there some way around this?

    The addiction to Epic has its place, but, at the somewhat ironic risk of hyperbolizing, I think it’s also what creates the Madoffs and Enrons of the world… “Go big or go home!” (or go to jail)

  29. *I think my last comment gotten eaten, so trying again*

    Epic rant, James!

    And what ever you do please…please…please…don’t read that last post I wrote on Copyblogger. If you do you’ll probably stop sending me Christmas cards. :)

  30. Epic is as epic does; so let’s strive to be “epically” ourselves without the hype. When my son was little, I always told him that happiness and its counterpart sadness go “hand in hand” (as does good and its countpart evil) because you can’t have one without the other or you would have nothing to compare it to. Seems I was “philosophizing” then without even knowing it.

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